Ranking the 7 Teams Best Set Up for the Future Entering 2022 Season

Ian Wharton@@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVJune 7, 2022

Ranking the 7 Teams Best Set Up for the Future Entering 2022 Season

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    BUFFALO, NEW YORK - JANUARY 15: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against the New England Patriots during the third quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2022 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
    Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

    The reason why NFL fans have become as interested in the offseason is the allure of the future. Game days will always reign on the calendar, but not every team has as bright of an immediate situation as its long-term outlook.

    Some Super Bowl contenders must cherish the now, and others should feel secure as the coming years near. Rebuilding teams are hoping for the best in 2022 but have an eye toward their progress for 2023 and beyond.

    Instead of focusing on the here and now, we're projecting into the future.

    We dove into every team's collection of future assets, including draft picks, cap space, existing contracts and expected future extensions. Younger rosters with a full stable of draft picks have an edge over older cores, but we can't assume every recent high draft pick will blossom into his best-case scenario.

    What happened in 2021 had an effect on our projections.

    Let's dive into the franchises that have put themselves in a position to have sustained success from 2024 through 2026.

7. Philadelphia Eagles

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    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 16: Jalen Hurts #1 of the Philadelphia Eagles scrambles with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half of the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    A transformation by a young quarterback into the top-tier category can change the power dynamic in the league. Kyler Murray, Trevor Lawrence or a player not even in the NFL yet could be an X-factor.

    We'll put our trust in the best front office of any team lacking a proven superstar talent under center. Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has shown the ability to build a high-caliber roster while stockpiling draft capital. His work could pay off if quarterback Jalen Hurts takes a leap in his third season.

    The Eagles are wise to not have all of their eggs in Hurts' development. They explored adding Russell Wilson to solidify their status as a Super Bowl contender in 2022, though their trade attempt failed.

    Should Hurts not live up to expectations in 2022, the Eagles have the New Orleans Saints' 2023 first-round pick and 2024 second-round pick in addition to their own full cabinet of selections they could use for a rookie such as Ohio State's C.J. Stroud or Alabama's Bryce Young or to bring in a veteran upgrade.

    The best-case scenario is for Hurts to continue growing as a pocket passer, with the Eagles able to keep their picks. Philadelphia has done well with veteran contracts to maximize the talent it can amass, but it lacks flexibility until after 2024.

    That season, each of the following players will be between 33 and 37 years old with a cap number that's at least $7.5 million: Lane Johnson ($20.8 million); Darius Slay ($13.8 million); Brandon Graham ($10.1 million); Jason Kelce ($11.4 million); and Fletcher Cox ($7.5 million).

    Roseman's margin for error will be smaller until those deals come off the books.

    Head coach Nick Sirianni is turning just 41 this offseason, so it's reasonable to believe he could continue growing into his role over the coming years.

6. Kansas City Chiefs

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    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 30: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks to pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half of the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 30, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    Like most teams with an all-time talent at quarterback, relevance will rarely be the question. The Kansas City Chiefs will always be feared as they have Patrick Mahomes making plays, but arguably the biggest red flag is the future of Andy Reid.

    Reid will be 66 years old at the start of the 2024 season and almost 69 by the end of 2026. He signed a contract extension through 2025, but it's not unreasonable to wonder if he'll step away early given all that he's already accomplished in his career.

    By 2024, Travis Kelce will be in his age-35 season with a $16.4 million cap hit. Then the only other notable offensive player besides Mahomes is guard Joe Thuney, who will have an absurd $22.6 million cap hit.

    The young talent on the roster will need to develop as hoped for the team to continue reaching the AFC Championship Game. But the 2021 and 2022 draft hauls look promising thus far, with linebacker Nick Bolton, defensive back Trent McDuffie, offensive lineman Creed Humphrey and defensive end George Karlaftis headlining the additions.

    Kansas City has to find a replacement for Tyreek Hill, who was traded to the Miami Dolphins this offseason, and Kelce over the next two years. But if Reid is coaching at an elite level and the young investments pay off, the Chiefs could have the top situation for the future.

5. Cleveland Browns

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    CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 20: Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns reacts during the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 20, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)
    Nick Cammett/Getty Images

    The immediate future of the Cleveland Browns is murky because of the legal situation of new quarterback Deshaun Watson.

    There have been 23 civil lawsuits filed by women accusing him of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. A 24th suit was filed Monday, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. The NFL could also suspend him for violating its personal-conduct policy.

    Cleveland has amassed an impressive number of playmakers at key positions, and almost all of them will be in their primes from 2024 and 2026. Watson and edge-rusher Myles Garrett will be 30 in 2025. Guard Joel Bitonio is the only player over 30 with a large contract past 2024.

    Having superstars at quarterback, edge-rusher and cornerback is a massive advantage. The cornerback pairing of Denzel Ward and 2021 first-round pick Greg Newsome II will anchor this secondary for years to come.

    Head coach Kevin Stefanski is a major positive in addition to general manager Andrew Berry. Only 40 years old, the 2020 NFL Coach of the Year runs a system that maximizes his playmakers and efficiency. He's one of the better schematic coaches in the league.

    Cleveland must win in the margins over the next several years because of the immense amount of money owed to its core playmakers. The team is without first-round picks in 2023 and 2024 because of the Watson trade, and its cap situation until 2025 is limiting.

    But the task of filling the gaps between the stars should be easier than for teams lacking that talent.

4. San Francisco 49ers

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    INGLEWOOD, CA - JANUARY 09: San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Trey Lance (5) looks on before the NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams on January 9, 2022, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The NFC is on a downward trend as veteran coaches and quarterbacks are on the way out. By 2024, the conference could also be without Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady after losing Russell Wilson and Drew Brees over the last two years.

    There's not a franchise in the conference more trustworthy than the San Francisco 49ers. The Dallas Cowboys have an expensive roster and an uncertain coaching staff beyond 2022. The Los Angeles Rams have a terrific core right now, but the futures of head coach Sean McVay and defensive tackle Aaron Donald could be year-to-year.

    San Francisco has an elite head coach in 42-year-old Kyle Shanahan, a solid general manager in John Lynch and a young quarterback to build around in Trey Lance.

    The 49ers dealt three first-round picks in order to trade up to select Lance at No. 3 overall in 2021, but their 2023 first-rounder is the final selection owed from that deal.

    Shanahan brought an average quarterback talent in Jimmy Garoppolo to the brink of a championship in 2019 and a near Super Bowl appearance last season, so the 49ers can be NFC juggernauts for the next decade if Lance is above-average or better.

    This franchise has drafted well. Landing stars like Deebo Samuel (2019) and Fred Warner (2018) on Day 2 has helped it reach contender status. Samuel and right tackle Mike McGlinchey are the only two notable starters set to be free agents before 2024.

    Having star pass-rusher Nick Bosa under contract through 2023 also helps their projection.

    Shanahan's proven system makes him an elite force. The 49ers will have most of their core in their prime come 2024 if they can find a way to extend Samuel, who didn't attend OTAs last month amid a contract dispute and trade request.

    Even if they can't, Shanahan has shown his ability to squeeze production out of personnel before, so he'll keep the franchise relevant in a worst-case scenario.

3. Los Angeles Chargers

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 09: Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers warms up before playing against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
    Steve Marcus/Getty Images

    The first two years of the Justin Herbert era in Los Angeles have gone almost as well as anyone could have hoped. The 24-year-old quarterback's poise, accuracy and creation ability give him elite potential.

    His 2021 season produced top-10 results. His touchdown rate (5.7 percent) ranked eighth. His yards per pass attempt (7.5) tied for eighth. And his adjusted yards per attempt (7.6) tied for 10th.

    The Chargers wisely reinvested into the offensive line this offseason, and by 2024, they may have at worst a top-five quarterback.

    They could also create cap flexibility to overhaul their roster. The contracts of veterans Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Khalil Mack have affordable outs in them or expire by 2025.

    The core of this roster is set with Herbert, edge-rusher Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James.

    Bosa is a potential first-team All-Pro and defensive MVP candidate and is one of the best building blocks in the NFL.

    Though James will be a free agent after 2022, he and the team are working on an extension. James is one of the most unique defensive backs, and head coach Brandon Staley showed comfort utilizing his gifts in 2021. Only two safeties produced more tackles than James in 2021, with both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jalen Thompson taking advantage of playing at least one more game than James.

    Los Angeles will need to draft and develop its talent over the next few years as its cap space shrinks or is projected to be near the bottom of the league. General manager Tom Telesco has been aggressive in filling holes, so there's reason for optimism he'll be willing to make changes quickly if needed.

    Expect the Chargers-Chiefs rivalry in the AFC West to continue for the next decade.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

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    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 13:Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a pass during the first half of Super Bowl LVI against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on February 13, 2022 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Coming off their surprising Super Bowl run, the Cincinnati Bengals are set for continued contention so long as quarterback Joe Burrow is healthy. Having the eighth-most cap space in 2023 and 10th-most cap space in 2024 will help their efforts significantly, including with an extension for Burrow.

    The only other free agents Cincinnati may feel are "must re-sign" caliber until 2024 are safety Jessie Bates III and wide receiver Tee Higgins. By that year, not a single key contributor under contract will be over 31. This is a young, affordable team that has drafted well and identified value free agents for its scheme.

    The recent spending surge under head coach Zac Taylor is promising. The fourth-youngest head coach in the league now has a fully equipped offensive line in addition to several stay offensive playmakers.

    Cincinnati doesn't have the same caliber of stars on defense as some of its contending peers. It's fair to wonder how the unit would perform if it were to lose defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo to a head coaching job, but the defense does have untapped potential if the team were to add another star pass-rusher or cornerback.

    With a full cupboard of picks and terrific core of young talent, the Bengals might be the scariest team in the league for the next decade. The biggest reasons why they're not No. 1 on our list are their lack of depth and sudden improvement from 2020 to 2021.

1. Buffalo Bills

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    Orchard Park, NY - January 15: Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) celebrates with WRs Gabriel Davis (left) and Stefon Diggs (right) after a fourth quarter touchdown scored by Davis.  The Buffalo Bills host the New England Patriots in a AFC wild-card game Saturday night January 15, 2022 at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
    Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

    From the top of the organization down, the Buffalo Bills are in terrific hands. General manager Brandon Beane has assembled an elite staff led by 48-year-old head coach Sean McDermott as well as a fantastic roster.

    Led by star quarterback Josh Allen, the team has a fearsome collection of playmakers on both sides of the ball. Seeing Buffalo land free agent Von Miller to solidify its pass rush after the team finished with the top overall defense in 2021 had to be terrifying for opponents.

    For as good as Allen is, there's room for him to improve. His interception rate of 2.3 percent landed him 18th in the NFL last year. His completion rate of 63.3 percent was also lower than expected considering he averaged 6.8 yards per attempt.

    While the additions of tailback James Cook and receiver Khalil Shakir are noteworthy for now and the future, by 2024, the Bills will need their draft picks from 2022 and 2023 to be reliable starters.

    The biggest issue for Buffalo is the aging of its key stars. Safety Jordan Poyer will be a free agent after this season but will be turning 32. Fellow safety Micah Hyde will be 34 in 2024, and Miller will be 35.

    Most of Buffalo's core will be just fine. Allen and cornerback Tre'Davious White will be in their prime years from 2024 to '26. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is a free agent after 2022 but has been productive enough for Buffalo to retain into the middle of the decade. Stefon Diggs will be in his early 30s, though.

    Overall, though, the Bills have shown smart aggressiveness in their contract management and draft-pick allocation. Their player development has been excellent.

    If they can avoid a massive drop-off on offense without coordinator Brian Daboll, who took the head coaching job with the New York Giants this offseason, they have a strong ecosystem to create success for years to come.

    Advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.